The many benefits of being a high-profile public official or his scion in Armenia apparently include getting away with violence and murder. At least that is how human rights defenders have reacted to the September 8 decision to drop all murder charges against the son of former strongman governor, Suren Khachatrian.
In a Quentin-Tarantino-esque shootout near the ex-governor’s mansion in the southeastern town of Goris, Khachatrian fils this June shot dead local businessman Avetik Budaghian. Budaghian’s brother Artak, a military officer, was wounded in the clash with Kachatrian’s son, Tigran, and his bodyguards.
Tigran Khachatrian and one of the bodyguards were arrested on murder and illegal weapons possession charges, but were released after the military police, which are handling the case, decided that all the shots fired by Khachatrian were made in self-defense. Human rights activists, the victims' family and the family's lawyer all have condemned the ruling. A local representative of Human Rights Watch alleged in a conversation with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a former defense minister, may personally have pushed for the ex-gubernatorial son.
Suren Khachatrian, who used to run the province as his personal fiefdom, is believed to have been a vote hoarder for President Sargsyan and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.Voter support for the duo reportedly ran stronger in Syunik than anywhere else in Armenia.
It has been widely suggested that this quid-pro-quo relationship kept Kachatrian in office despite his long alleged record of violent behavior. Allegations like assaulting a journalist and a businesswoman had been piling up against Kachatrian, but never resulted in indictments or dismissal.
Khachatrian père tendered his resignation after the shooting incident, but, critics say, he can still call in favors with the establishment.